Warming Hearts in Ukraine

Yael Eckstein  |  January 18, 2023

Yael Eckstein with elderly Jewish woman in Ukraine, 2022

Long before the ongoing war began in Ukraine last year, The Fellowship has been on the ground in the region—for three decades—providing aid for the neediest of God’s people there. We have remained on the ground, giving lifesaving care and assistance to all those displaced and affected by the still-raging conflict, and earlier this month I was in neighboring Moldova—where so many thousands of refugees have fled—to distribute aid.

On the Ground

Until the conflict started, I would make an annual trip to Ukraine on behalf of The Fellowship to bring aid to needy Jews who live there. And whenever I took this trip, people would ask me why I go in the winter when temperatures are well below freezing and the weather can be treacherous. The answer is: I go in the winter precisely for those reasons. Every year elderly Jews in the Ukraine die because of the cold, harsh winter. The Fellowship brings aid when it is needed most.

Before the war, and before the pandemic altered travel, I would go house to house visiting elderly Holocaust survivors who have no one in the world to take care of them. These people lost their entire families in the Holocaust and in most cases, never married or had children of their own. Bringing them food, water, warm clothing, and blankets literally saves their lives.

Many times, the homes we visited were not accessible by car. We parked and walked ten or fifteen minutes through forests in temperatures so frigid that my legs stung like they were on fire. At the end of our journey, we would reach a shack with no electricity and no running water, in the middle of nowhere, with a lonely, old woman huddled up inside.

‘How Did You Find Me?’

But these precious souls—cut off from the world, all alone with no one to care for them—still receive help from The Fellowship, as we have been on the ground in the Former Soviet Union for three decades.

When King David wrote “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone“ (Psalm 71:9), he was talking about the people who The Fellowship helps—people like this, people nearly forgotten by the world but never forsaken by God. And I fully believe that He uses The Fellowship to care for each and every one of His people.

These Jewish elderly, who lost everything in the Holocaust, now live in abject poverty. When they were younger, they could chop enough wood to last the winter, they could pick vegetables in autumn and pickle them for the cold months, and they were strong enough to draw water from an icy well. But now, in their old age, they simply cannot care for themselves.

I’ll always remember one particularly moving moment from one of my last visits to Ukraine. I walked into the home of an elderly survivor and she couldn’t believe that we had found her. She said, “No one knows about me! How did you find me? I’m all alone—no one cares about me!”

‘I Asked God Why?’

When I told her that there are millions of Christians who care about her and pray for her, she was even more overwhelmed. She said, “I’ve been waiting to die. I don’t want to live if I have to live cold, hungry, and hurting all of the time. Every day I asked God why he has kept me alive but now I know why—it’s so that when I die, I will die with a smile on my face knowing I am cared for.”

To me, this woman summed up exactly why we care for the Jewish people of Ukraine—to bring food, lifesaving aid, and perhaps most important, a smile to someone’s face by letting them know that we love them, that God loves them, and that they will never be forsaken or forgotten.

With blessings from the Holy Land,

Yael Eckstein's Signature

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